See I set before you today
life and death
blessing and curse
Book of Deuteronomy
To be spiritually healthy, we must choose life! It’s as simple and as complex as that. I say ‘complex’ because we are complex beings: so much gets in the way, so much prevents us from opening ourselves to the offer of life. I am thinking here of the inner workings of our mind, our emotions and memories, what we refer to as the intra-personal dimension of our being. It is so often this intra-personal dimension that causes us to close up to life, to love, to grace. Biblical writers often referred to this as ‘hardness of heart’. In the writings of the Hebrew Prophet Isaiah, for example, we find God saying: “I will take out their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh instead”. When hardness of heart becomes habitual, it really is ‘death’ to spiritual well-being.
To explore this a little, let’s look at a story, a modern day parable, The Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence. This is the story of a woman, Hagar Shipley. Hagar is the daughter of a store-keeper on the Canadian prairies. Her father is wealthier and more cultured than most of the other people in that area. Very early in her life, Hagar learns from her father to look with disdain on those less well-educated, less clear-headed and weaker than herself. She also learns to look down on weakness of all kinds, either within herself or others. The secret of life, as she learns it, is to be self-reliant, independent, never to cry and to be stronger than others. As she grows up, goes to an eastern finishing school and returns to help her father in his business, Hagar learns more and more to be in perfect control of herself, how to not feel anything: neither warmth nor sympathy for others, nor weakness, nor loneliness, nor tears within herself.
Her father considers her too cultured to mix with the local boys, but she rejects her father and eventually marries Bram Shipley, the most uncouth, unmannered, unfeeling and irreligious man in that area. But Hagar is so unfeeling she doesn’t seem to even notice.
She expects nothing from him or life and receives nothing. She is neither happy nor sad, neither depressed nor tearful, when her life degenerates progressively into nothing. Worst of all, she is totally uninterested in bettering it. Her father had rejected her when she married Bram, and now, living on his farm outside of town, she no longer even goes into town to shop or to go to church. She begins to neglect her physical appearance, and soon even begins, outwardly, to resemble the ragged Bram. She continues in this way for a meaningless twenty-four years. Then a particular jarring incident moves her to act and nearly to save herself.
Ms Kerry McCullough
Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator